Friday, March 27, 2009

Hillary Clinton ora por su pueblo en Basílica

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe and prayed for the people of the United States. She received a personal tour from the rector, Fr. Diego Monroy who blessed Clinton and also answered her questions. Clinton was impressed by the image on San Juan Diego's tilma and even more so when told of its divine origin. She left a bouquet of white roses and lit a green votive candle. Now we are praying to La Morenita that God will touch Secretary Clinton's heart and the hearts of all our government leaders so that we will finally get comprehensive and just immigration reform with this administration.

The visit to Our Lady of Guadalupe and the blessing seem to already be working on Clinton. In a press conference later that day, she told Milenio newspaper that "we are not going to set aside our common goal of an orderly and humanitarian immigration policy." She also indicated that the impact and need for the infamous border wall are being studied, with the idea that perhaps it would only be needed in more isolated areas.

Julián Sánchez y Silvia Otero
El Universal
Ciudad de México Jueves 26 de marzo de 2009

La secretaría de Estado de Estados Unidos, Hillary Clinton, oró ante la Virgen por el bienestar del pueblo de Estados Unidos y expresó su sorpresa por la importancia que tiene la Virgen de Guadalupe no sólo para México sino para todo el continente americano.

De acuerdo con el rector de la Basílica, Diego Monroy, quien recibió y acompañó a Clinton, la funcionaria dijo que la Virgen le impresionó e impactó, sobre todo cuando se le explicó que quedó plasmada en el ayate de Juan Diego, a lo cual ella preguntó: ¿Y quién la pintó?, a lo que el rector respondió que Dios.

Hillary Clinton reiteró su beneplácito y manifestó en todo momento su alegría por haber visitado la Basílica de Guadalupe y le comentó a Diego Monroy que ella había ido en alguna ocasión hace más de 30 años a la antigua Basílica, antes de que se acabara de construir el templo donde permanece la imagen, en 1979.

La funcionaria, quien fue bendecida por Monroy, dejó un ramo de rosas blancas, y en el quemador de veladoras encendió una de color verde.

Clinton llegó a la Basílica a las 08:15 horas y se retiró a las 08:55 horas. Antes de irse se acercó con algunos fieles a saludarlos, quienes le manifestaron que es bienvenida a México. Ella les agradeció y les dijo que tenían una virgen maravillosa.

Charity and Reciprocity

Lent is a good time to focus on spiritual reading. I'm reading Fr. Virgil Elizondo's Charity (Orbis, 2008). I like Virgil/Virgilio (like a good San Antonian the padre answers to both names) Elizondo's writing. It's clear and understandable, not mired in pompous theological jargon, and full of wonderful personal anecdotes to illustrate the points he is making.

And he makes sense. He argues that charity has to combine both the corporal and the spiritual works of mercy. St. Vincent de Paul used to say: "It is only for your love alone that the poor will forgive you the bread you give to them." The fact that charity is needed at all reflects an economic inequality in which we, the benefactors, are at least partially complicit, hence the need for forgiveness. We can make it easier to swallow by adopting an "hoy por ti, mañana por mi" attitude -- we will not always be the donors, the poor will not always be the recipients.

Elizondo says: "To help those with material needs is absolutely necessary, but never enough. In fact if one helps others only materially there is a great danger of dehumanizing them by reducing them to dependent bodies without a spirit. Material dependency easily robs people of their dignity and freedom...The liberation of the spirit comes through the experience of being recognized, accepted, appreciated and loved."

The counterpoint of true charity is reciprocity -- allowing others to help us. In Fr. Elizondo's words, "charity involves the acceptance of my own limitations, rejoices in the gifts of others, and welcomes their assistance." God did not create human beings to be self-sufficient, but rather interdependent on each other and dependent on Him. We are not meant to "have it all".

This is not the same as the Biblical injunction against self-interested reciprocity in Luke 14:12ff: "Then [Jesus] said to the host who invited Him, "when you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment. Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous." You should not act charitably only when you think someone can do something for you in return but neither should you make assumptions. The poor may not seem able to repay, but when given respect and opportunity, they often can and want to do so, and to discourage this reciprocity in order to maintain a false sense of superiority is uncharitable.

When I think of charity and reciprocity, I remember Theresa, an African American woman who came to stay at the Mary Harris Catholic Worker House on Fourth Street. Because Theresa was Catholic, we invited her to join us for evening prayer. We volunteers had a little ritual, frowned upon by the house's founder Mike Kirwan, that relieved the tensions of the day. We would end our prayer with a solemn chanting of the Salve Regina in Latin and top it off with a rousing rendition of Janis Joplin's song "Mercedes Benz" ("O Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz?" etc...). Dorothy Day was probably spinning in her grave, but Theresa always thanked us for inviting her to pray and said that singing "Mercedes Benz" made her laugh so hard that she forgot her fear and embarrassment at being in a shelter for the first time in her life.

Reciprocity was also important to Theresa. She did not have any money or much formal education, but the sister could cook! I had money but no experience in cooking for large groups. So Theresa and I developed another ritual. Every Sunday morning we would wake before the others and walk to the supermarket. We would buy the ingredients and I would help Theresa prepare a good breakfast of eggs, sausage, biscuits, juice and coffee for the ladies. I was usually entrusted with a simple task like setting the table or shaping sausage patties. Theresa's face would glow as she would watch the other guests enjoy the food she had lovingly prepared. Coffee and conversation flowed freely, divisions disappeared, and for that moment we were just a group of women thankful for a wonderful meal and welcoming a new day the Lord had made.

Photo: Theresa and "the gang" at Mary Harris House.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Amnesty International USA finds U.S. immigrant detentions violate human rights

A new report from Amnesty International USA, Jailed Without Justice: Immigration Detention in the USA has revealed that more than 30,000 immigrants are detained each day, three times as many as one decade ago, and that this number is likely to increase even further. They include asylum seekers, torture survivors, victims of human trafficking, longtime lawful permanent residents, and the parents of US citizen children. The US detains children, asylum seekers, survivors of torture and human trafficking, lawful permanent residents and the parents of U.S. citizen children.

While ICE reported an average detention stay of 37 days in 2007, immigrants and asylum seekers may be detained for months or even years as they go through deportation procedures that will determine whether or not they are eligible to remain in the United States. According to a 2003 study, individuals who were eventually granted asylum spent an average of 10 months in detention with the longest reported period being 3.5 years. Amnesty International has documented several cases in this report, in which individuals have been detained for four years. Individuals who have been ordered deported may languish in detention indefinitely if their home country is unwilling to accept their return or does not have diplomatic relations with the United States.

In order to meet the rising demand for space to house immigration detainees, US immigration authorities to contract with approximately 350 state and county criminal jails across the country. Approximately 67 per cent of immigration detainees are held in these facilities, while the remaining individuals are held in facilities operated by immigration authorities and private contractors.

Amnesty International found that the detention of immigrants and asylum seekers puts considerable pressure on individuals to abandon potentially valid claims to remain in the United States.


As a result of their findings, Amnesty International USA has made the following recommendations:

1. The US Congress should pass legislation creating a presumption against the detention of immigrants and asylum seekers and ensuring that it be used as a measure of last resort;

2. The US government should ensure that alternative non-custodial measures, such as reporting requirements or an affordable bond, are always explicitly considered before resorting to detention. Reporting requirements should not be unduly onerous, invasive or difficult to comply with, especially for families with children and those of limited financial means. Conditions of release should be subject to judicial review.

3. The US Congress should pass legislation to ensure that all immigrants and asylum seekers have access to individualized hearings on the lawfulness, necessity, and appropriateness of detention.

4. The US government should ensure the adoption of enforceable human rights detention standards in all detention facilities that house immigration detainees, either through legislation or through the adoption of enforceable policies and procedures by the Department of Homeland Security. There should be effective independent oversight to ensure compliance with detention standards and accountability for any violations.

ACT NOW: If you got to Amnesty's Web site you can take action now and e-mail Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and call for these changes to be made.

Divine justice in New York

A story in today's NY Daily News shows that every once in a while justice is achieved, this time for an Irish Catholic 25-year employee of a luxury hotel who was treated disrespectfully by his boss:

The manager of one of the city's most luxurious hotels was given the boot after ordering a Catholic employee to clean up his forehead on Ash Wednesday.

"Wipe that f-----g s--t off your face," managing director Niklaus Leuenberger told a bell captain at the New York Palace Hotel on Feb. 25, sources said...

..."As of Monday, March 23, Leuenberger is no longer employed by the New York Palace," hotel spokeswoman Teresa Delaney told the Daily News Tuesday.

The incident was deemed so severe, Christopher Cowdray, head of the London-based Dorchester Collection, which owns the Palace, flew here to hand Leuenberger the pink slip.

"We take the well-being of our employees extremely seriously and that is why our CEO, Mr. Cowdray, went to New York in person to deal with this matter," the company said.

...The object of the manager's insult, bell captain Mike Murray, said the cross of dark ashes was liberally applied to his forehead at his Long Island church.

"My priest did a real number on me," he said with a chuckle.

...The 893-room five-star hotel, where a posh suite with city views fetches well over $1,000 a night, combines Renaissance-style architecture with modern design and amenities.

The hotel leases its land from the Catholic Church.

For the record, the New York Palace Hotel is unionized and since management has demonstrated a willingness to defend their employees' right to be treated respectfully, Catholics are encouraged to patronize this establishment.

El SÍ Militante

Back in 2004, Padre César shared a Christmas article with us called “Alabanzas Insuficientes”. One phrase from that article has stuck with me throughout the years. Speaking to Jesus, Padre César said: “Naciste de María, la nazarena, muchacha con el corazón abierto a Dios y dispuesta a cambiar la historia con su SÍ militante y su humildad a prueba de toda duda.” Today the Church celebrates Mary’s “militant YES” in the Feast of the Annunciation – that fearless YES that did, in fact, change the course of history.

Mary had every reason to say “no” – she was young, poor, and unmarried. She risked being shunned at best, at worst stoned to death. She could have let her fear win out, as we humans often do. Instead she accepted the angel Gabriel’s word and what she thought impossible became possible and bearable through the power of God. Mary carried Our Savior nine months in her womb and then continued to walk with Him until His death on the Cross.

And so today we pray: “Gracias, Madre María, por tu SÍ militante que nos regaló el Salvador. Enseñenos a cumplir la voluntad de Dios sin temor para que nosotros también podemos convertirnos en portadores de su palabra divina y de su amor. Amén.”

God said WHAT? Part 2: The Ten Commandments

In one of the more amusing scenes in “El Crimen del Padre Amaro”, Amaro’s lover Amelia is teaching the Ten Commandments to her First Communion class. As she and her fellow catechist chant “El sesto mandamiento: No fornicarás”, a little tyke raises his hand: “¿Que quiere decir ‘no fornicarás’?” After a brief moment of confusion, Amelia recovers and quickly replies: “Quiere decir que no vas a comer carne en la Semana Santa”. (“It means you don’t eat meat during Holy Week.”)

We laugh because Amelia’s answer is clearly wrong and for more than just the obvious reason. The Church does not require abstention from meat during the entire Holy Week – only on Good Friday. But I have thought about it some more.

Where did this “No fornicarás” come from? I checked all the Bible translations I own and the word Moses received from God on Mt. Sinai was “No cometerás adulterio” – a much more limited concept. The official Vatican version of the catechetical formula is even broader: “No cometerás actos impuros”. Now, the Church considers both sins against chastity and sins against marital fidelity to fall under the sixth commandment, but revising the phrasing of the commandment itself seems a bit exaggerated to me. The official English catechetical formula adheres pretty closely to the second iteration of the Decalogue in Deuteronomy 5:6-21.

The ninth commandment, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife”, also gets reworked in Spanish. Some Spanish versions have it accurately as “No desearás la mujer de tu prójimo” but in the official Catechism of the Catholic Church it has somehow become: “No consentirás pensamientos ni deseos impuros.” We know that Jesus broadened the original teaching handed down via Moses: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’ (Mt. 5:21-22). So we are counseled against impure thoughts, but it was NOT part of the original Decalogue.

The eighth commandment, “You shall not bear false witness
against your neighbor”, has an additional dimension when translated into Spanish: “No darás falso testimonio ni mentirás.” You are not to give false testimony against ANYBODY (not just your neighbor) AND, moreover, you may not lie.

The third commandment has also been expanded in Spanish to the point that its original meaning and intent have been distorted. In English we say: “Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day.” That would be the Sabbath, which Catholics do not celebrate on the seventh day but rather on Sunday. The Spanish catechism says: “Santificarás las fiestas” – not just the Sabbath, but any day the Church has deemed a holy day of obligation. This phrasing both departs significantly from the Decalogue and diminishes its original intent – that the people of God remember and honor the day on which God rested from His labors.

Neither the English nor the Spanish catechetical versions of the Ten Commandments –as these follow the Deuteronomy rather than the Exodus 20:2-17 version – includes the caution against making graven images (what the Protestant churches consider to be the second commandment) and this omission has been duly noted by the evangélicos who (wrongly) accuse Catholics of worshipping Mary and the saints and deplore the presence of their images in our churches.

Incidentally the catechetical formula also changes in the other Romance languages. In Italian, it is similar to the Spanish, except that it does not include "lying" under the 8th commandment.

The Portuguese and French catechetical versions include even more tampering than the Spanish one. To the fourth commandment, "Honor your father and your mother", they add a requirement to honor one's superiors, although -- to the Portuguese credit -- they limit this to "legitimate superiors" (whatever that means). Talk about a Church at the service of the existing social order!

Each of these languages also has an extrapolation on the 5th commandment ("You shall not kill"). The Portuguese add "nem causar outro dano, no corpo ou na alma, a si mesmo ou ao próximo" (nor cause any other harm to the body or the soul either of yourself or your neighbor). The French add an admonition that "...scandale éviteras, haine et colère également" (you will avoid scandal, hatred and anger too).

Finally, they modify the 7th commandment ("You shall not steal"). Both Portuguese and French versions add that you will not unjustly hold on to what is not yours, and the Portuguese take it a step further, cautioning us against damaging our neighbor's property.

So why does any of this matter?

1. We are supposed to be a universal Church. We should not be teaching our children a different catechism depending on what language they speak. It may not have been noticeable when the Catholic churches in the different countries were essentially monolingual (except for Canada, but in that case there tends to be a dominant language in the different provinces or diocese) but now the Catholic Church in the United States is significantly and increasingly bilingual in many areas and we need to start to look at these issues.

2. When we restate the Ten Commandments to include other Church teachings while continuing to call them the "Ten Commandments", we give additional ammo to the evangélicos who argue that Catholics are rewriting the Bible. In researching this post, I found literally hundreds of pages on the Internet that make this argument and they were countered by only a few rather weak apologetics pages.

Can it be so difficult to standardize the Ten Commandments in the official Catechism of the Catholic Church and bring them into line with what the Book of Deuteronomy says was on those old clay tablets?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Obama at Notre Dame

President Obama has agreed to deliver three graduation addresses this year: Arizona State University on May 13, the U.S. Naval Academy on May 22,...and Notre Dame on May 17!

Conservative Catholic fur is already flying. Randall Terry's Operation Rescue has announced their intent to stop the commencement address and they've set up a Web site to do it. The Cardinal Newman Society has another Web site, complete with petition, aimed at stopping the Obama address. And Bishop John M. D'Arcy of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend has announced his intention to boycott the Notre Dame graduation ceremony this year. The conservatives are also rallying Notre Dame alumni to their cause.

In the middle of all this fuss, Notre Dame President Fr. John Jenkins, CSC shines like a beacon of academic freedom and reasonable discourse. He has pointed out that Notre Dame has always invited the current president of the United States, regardless of political party, and he cannot imagine rescinding the invitation at this time.

Jenkins called President Obama "an inspiring leader" and added that he "has taken leadership of the country facing many challenges: two wars, a really troubled economy, he has issues with health care, immigration, education reform, and he has addressed those with intelligence, courage and honesty."

"I would say that it's a special feature for us that we will hear from the first African American president here at Notre Dame, a person who has spoken eloquently and powerfully about race," Fr. Jenkins said. "Racial prejudice is a deep wound in America and President Obama has been a healer, so we honor him for those reasons."

He cautioned that "the invitation of President Obama to be our Commencement speaker should in no way be taken as condoning or endorsing his positions on specific issues regarding the protection of life, such as abortion and embryonic stem cell research." These "crucial differences" in positions on the protection of life are not being ignored in extending the invitation to the president, in Jenkins' view, who hopes to use them as a catalyst for dialogue. "We are not ignoring the critical issue of the protection of life. On the contrary, we invited him because we care so much about those issues, and we hope...for this to be the basis of an engagement with him," he said.

Reflecting on the USCCB's admonition in Catholics in Political Life (2004) that "the Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions", Fr. Jenkins said that he had considered those words and concluded that Notre Dame was not in violation of that principle. The honorary Doctor of Laws degree that President Obama will receive when he comes in May "does not, it is not intended to condone or endorse his position on specific issues regarding life," he said. "That's not what we're honoring. "

"You cannot change the world if you shun the people you want to persuade, and if you cannot persuade them respect for them and listen to them," Fr. Jenkins concluded.

Meanwhile, the ND Irish basketball team are hoping they can persuade the President to join them for a pickup game. "This is typically a conservative place but, hey, he's the President now and regardless of what your political views are, he's the President and he's the man," said Kyle McAlarney, a senior guard. "I think he's done an incredible job. For him to come to Notre Dame and speak, it's great."

Photo: University of Notre Dame President John Jenkins, CSC

Activistas piden al Gobierno que detenga las redadas

Tomás Guevara
El Diario de Hoy
Lunes, 23 de Marzo de 2009

Los carteles con consignas de "Alto a las redadas y deportaciones" estaban listos y los ánimos de unos 500 activistas convocados para ayer, lunes, en las afueras del Departamento de Seguridad Interna (DHS, por sus siglas en inglés) y a tono para gritar a todo pulmón que las redadas y deportaciones de indocumentados no han parado a dos meses de haber tomado posesión el presidente Barack Obama.

Los organizadores del Movimiento por una Reforma Migratoria (FIRM, por sus siglas en inglés) y el grupo Gente en Acción Nacional (NPA) tenían prevista la actividad frente a la prensa nacional e internacional en las afueras de las oficinas de la secretaria de DHS, Janet Napolitano.

No obstante, con una ligera maniobra las autoridades de DHS convocaron a los dirigentes del movimiento para la tarde del domingo en sus oficinas centrales en Washington; bajo acuerdo, la marcha fue suspendida y han abierto un diálogo que continuará en mayo, aseguró a Mary Moreno, vocera de FIRM.

Moreno dijo que al gobierno no le gustan las marchas, más cuando son tumultuosas, -por el efecto mediático que adquieren con la presencia de la prensa.

Razón que justifica la disposición de DHS de delegar a Esther Olavarría, sub-asistente de política de este departamento para calmar los ánimos de los activistas, que aseguran no pararán hasta conseguir que cesen las redadas y deportaciones y se discuta cuanto antes una reforma migratoria integral.

"Ella (Olavarria) no quiso responder la pregunta sobre una moratoria a las redadas (…) Pero al estar en diálogo con ellos es un cambio, aunque nosotros no vamos a parar de hacer presión por el cambio real que queremos. Una reforma migratoria justa", afirmó, Moreno.

Descarta moratoria

Las altas expectativas puestas en la nueva administración Obama –en cuanto a suavizar las acciones contra la inmigración ilegal-, podrían diluirse con las noticias que a cuenta gotas salen de los despachos del gobierno federal.

En una entrevista concedida por la secretaria Janet Napolitano a la cadena Univisión, el fin de semana, descartó la posibilidad de hacer moratorias para frenar los operativos contra indocumentados prófugos de la ley que realiza el Servicio de Inmigración y Control de Aduanas (ICE, por sus siglas en inglés).

"No creo en moratorias, el término es demasiado amplio, pero podemos asegurarnos de ser cuidadosos en cómo hacemos nuestro trabajo porque vamos a continuar haciéndolo", dijo Napolitano.

La funcionaria aseguró que se avanza en el desarrollo del proyecto de Reforma Migratoria que el presidente Obama enviará para su discusión en el Senado y el Congreso en los próximos meses. La propuesta del ejecutivo contendría tres aspectos medulares para abordar el tema migratorio.

"Cómo hacer cumplir la ley, la cantidad y tipos de visas que otorgamos para aumentar la migración legal al país y cómo lidiar con los que ya están aquí", reiteró la secretaria de seguridad interna.

Por su parte Elmira Palacios, portavoz de la liga NPA aseguró que en la reunión con la delegada del Departamento de Seguridad Interna se abordó la posición de Napolitano respecto a una moratoria.

"Ellos dicen que trabajarán para hacer redadas humanas y justas, pero qué humano es separar a familias y dejar a niños sin padres aquí, solo por ser indocumentados", razona la activista.

A las voces del Movimiento por una Reforma Migratoria Justa que aglutina a centenares de organizaciones a nivel nacional, se han sumado influyentes grupos como la iglesia católica que el fin de semana en Chicago, lanzó una petición para que el gobierno pare las redadas y deportaciones.

"Estoy aquí, junto con otros dirigentes religiosos y todos ustedes los reunidos aquí, y con cada familia de inmigrantes en esta nación, para pedirle a nuestro gobierno que le ponga fin a las redadas de inmigrantes y la separación de las familias", dijo el cardenal Francis George en un acto por los derechos de los inmigrantes en una iglesia de Chicago.

El jerarca de la iglesia estadounidense pidió al gobierno cumplir la promesa de reformar la legislación inmigratoria. El cardenal George impulsará este mensaje en una seria de 17 encuentros que se realizarán en distintas ciudades de EE.UU., en los que participarán también promotores de los cambios a las políticas migratorias; entre ellos el congresista demócrata Luis Gutiérrez, de Illinois.

Monseñor Romero y los evangélicos

In his later years, even as he was coming under fire from his own Church, Monseñor Romero remained friendly with those evangélicos who were willing to work with him. I think of that whenever I hear my brothers and sisters in the Renovación refer to non-Catholic Christians as “los hermanos separados” (the separated brethren). In this anecdote from Monseñor Romero: Piezas para un retrato, Miguel Tomás tells how Romero stopped using that pejorative term:

...Le sorprendió que llegaran a verlo unos evangélicos. Tal vez era primera ocasión. Fuimos un buen grupo, el pastor y el cuerpo de diáconos con sus esposas, en representación de una pequeña Iglesia bautista, la Iglesia Emmanuel.

Le explicamos el aprecio que teníamos por su labor, le contamos que teníamos buenos amigos entre los curas católicos...

...A los días, Monseñor Romero contó sobre aquel encuentro por la radio y habló de nosotros llamándonos “hermanos separados”. Era el lenguaje habitual de la Iglesia católica en aquellos tiempos.

Encuentros así se fueron haciendo costumbre y una vez que volvimos a visitarlo, Heriberto [Pérez, el pastor de la Iglesia bautista] le reclamó:

“Usted habló de nosotros, pero de un modo que no nos gusta. Porque nosotros nos sentimos hermanos, pero no separados.”

Monseñor se quedó pensativo unos instantes.

“Hagamos un trato,” nos propuso. “Ustedes no me llamen más Monseñor, sino hermano y yo no les vuelvo a decir “hermanos separados”.

¡Trato hecho!

Y desde aquel día él nos llamó a nosotros “los hermanos de la Emmanuel” y nosotros a él, “el hermano Romero.”

And it is also worth noting that while Catholics are still waiting for the Vatican to officially proclaim Oscar Romero's sainthood, the Church of England already commemorates Msgr. Romero and his feast day is a Holy Day for them.

Foto: Testimonios martiriales de "Iglesias Hermanas" en la Cripta de la Catedral, gentileza Fundación Monseñor Romero

Monday, March 23, 2009

Latino vs. Latino

Why do we waste so much energy fighting each other? I was overjoyed when President Obama nominated Thomas Perez, currently Secretary of the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, as Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.

Aside from being a Dominican-American, Perez brings to the position the experience of actually having served as a federal prosecutor in the Civil Rights Division, where he prosecuted and supervised the prosecution of some of the Department’s most high profile civil rights cases, including a hate crimes case in Texas involving a group of white supremacists who went on a deadly, racially motivated crime spree. Perez later served as Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights under Attorney General Janet Reno. Among other responsibilities, he chaired the interagency Worker Exploitation Task Force, which oversaw a variety of initiatives designed to protect vulnerable workers.

Mr. Perez was also the first Latino ever elected to the Montgomery County Council where he served from 2002-2006, and he has been a tireless advocate for the immigrant community.

He was a member of the board of directors of CASA de Maryland – one of our most important area immigrant rights organizations -- from 1995 to 2002, and served for some time as the president of their board. When CASA opened a new center for day laborers in Baltimore on December 20, 2007, Thomas Perez strongly supported them declaring that: "Labor centers are the most cost-effective investment of government money I can imagine ... We're providing employment, addressing public safety by creating an orderly process, keeping people from street corners and protecting workers."

This should be enough of a record that all Latinos could get behind this hermano who has considerable experience in precisely the legal areas his new position would entail. But no. Instead, National Council of La Raza has issued a statement saying that they are profoundly disappointed because another hermano, Thomas Saenz, an advisor to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, was passed over for the job. They believe it is because of Saenz’ strong record as an immigrant rights activist and seem to think that this reflects a lack of commitment on President Obama's part to immigration reform.

Why can’t we come together, hermanos? Why can’t we thank our lucky stars that we have two brothers, both of whom are eminently qualified to fill the Department of Justice position? Why can’t we trust that President Obama selected the person he felt was best qualified for the particular position he was looking to fill? Why can’t we stop fighting each other and start pulling together for the good of the whole Latino community? United we stand; divided we fall.

Photo: Thomas Perez addresses a rally in Maryland in support of H.B. 6, a bill to provide in-state tuition rates to children of undocumented immigrant parents.

Monseñor Oscar Arnulfo Romero – Presente!

Vamos todos al banquete
A la mesa de la Creación
Cada cual con su taburete
Tiene un puesto y una misión...

From the opening bars of the Misa Popular Salvadoreña (which was originally commissioned by Romero from composer Guillermo Cuéllar to honor the Feast of the Transfiguration and the country’s patron, El Salvador del Mundo) and throughout the Mass this Sunday at Nuestra Señora Reina de la Paz, Monseñor Romero was “presente” and more than just in his image displayed at the altar. He was present in Fr. Joe’s homily, in the prayers of the faithful, in every part of the liturgy.

The music brought me back to the early 80s just after Romero’s death and to the little house Masses we used to celebrate in the Salvadoran exile community in Mt. Pleasant. We always sang from the Misa Popular and shared pupusas afterwards. In a way, my involvement in Hispanic ministry goes back to those fearless hermanos and hermanas who welcomed me into their homes and lives.

My introduction to Romero came from an abuelita – a secular Franciscan – who produced a photo of the Archbishop from her left bra cup and said in a proud voice: “Es mi obispo” – her own personal bishop whom she carried like a beloved nieto next to her heart. I can’t think of a single American bishop I would keep in such an intimate place.

Oscar Arnulfo Romero was killed on March 24, 1980 – one day after he implored the Salvadoran military: “En nombre de Dios, y en nombre de este sufrido pueblo, cuyos lamentos suben hasta el cielo cada día más tumultuosos, les suplico, les ruego, les ordeno en nombre de Dios: ¡cese la represión!”

As Fr. Joe reminded us, Msgr. Romero was not always so prophetic. He started out as a quiet, rather conservative churchman. The more progressive clergy were often disappointed by, or in conflict with him. To the extent that any single event radicalized Romero, it was the assassination of his friend Fr. Rutilio Grande, SJ. When they started killing priests, Romero opened his eyes and began to look at the situation in El Salvador from the perspective of the poor.

For those who are not familiar with Oscar Romero’s story, one of my favorite books is María López Vigil’s Monseñor Romero: Piezas para un retrato. It is available in English as Oscar Romero: Memories in Mosaic. López Vigil has collected and organized eyewitness vignettes from different moments in Romero’s life and so we can glimpse beyond the hagiography and find a real human being who loved his Salvadoran food, could be late, disorganized and irascible, and who was not above appreciating a good off-color joke.

The book also gives one a lot to think about. Those who would put Pope John Paul II’s sainthood on a fast track should read López Vigil’s account (as told to her by the Archbishop himself) of Romero’s trip to the Vatican in 1979 in a last-ditch attempt to get some help from the Catholic Church for his suffering people. John Paul II received him icily and barely gave him an audience, having already decided that Romero was a troublemaker. I sometimes wonder if John Paul II ever felt guilty for not paying more attention to Romero’s pleas, if after Romero’s assassination he ever had any remorse.

Today, El Salvador is a different place. It is no longer risky to be a priest, a nun, or a catechist. The country just had a presidential election that was, by all accounts, peaceful, open and democratic even though both major political parties grew out of its bloody past. There are still poor people, but you don’t sign your death warrant by joining a labor union or participating in a Christian base community. We have come a long way in 29 years, gracias a Dios.

San Romero de América, pedimos tu intercesión por tu pueblo salvadoreño y por todos nosotros para que, con la ayuda de Dios, podemos seguir viviendo en la paz, el amor, y la solidaridad. Amén.

...Cuando el pobre anuncia al pobre
La esperanza que Él nos dio
Ya su Reino entre nosotros nació.

Web Resources on Monseñor Oscar Romero:

Y la Música: